Pomona College Professors Michael Diercks, Phyllis Jackson, Zayn Kassam, Sidney Lemelle, Jane Liu, Lynne Miyake, Gilda Ochoa and Sara Olson have received the 2015 Wig Distinguished Professor Award for Excellence in Teaching. The award is the highest honor bestowed on Pomona faculty, recognizing exceptional teaching, concern for students and service to the College and community.
The recipients are elected by the junior and senior classes and then confirmed by a committee of trustees, faculty and students. The awards were announced at Pomona's 122nd Commencement.
Michael Diercks, assistant professor of linguistics and cognitive science, teaches Introduction to Linguistics, Languages in the Field and Syntax.
Student comment: "What I most admire about Professor Diercks is his respect for students and their ideas: my research experiences with him have been intensely collaborative, and I feel as though he takes my ideas as seriously as he would any other scholars."
Phyllis Jackson, associate professor of art history, is now a three-time recipient of the Wig Award, previously receiving the award in 2003 and 2010. Among her courses are: The Arts of Africa; WMDs: Cinema Against War, Imperialism and Corporate Power; Whiteness: Race, Sex and Representation; and Critical Race Theory, Representation and the Rule of Law.
Student comment: "I don't think there has ever been a professor who has pushed me as hard to expand my commitment to critical analysis and to improve my confidence in speaking. I think there are very few professors who share her particular brand of brilliance, ferocity, and sincere kindness as well as she does."
Zayn Kassam, the John Knox McLean Professor of Religious Studies, teaches Engendering and Experience: Women in Islamic Traditions; Islamic Thought; Sufism; The Divine Body: Religion and the Environment; and The Religion of Islam. This is her third Wig Award, previously received in 1998 and 2005.
Student comment: "Prof. Kassam is eloquent, caring, and brilliant. She can turn a small moment into a resonating statement about tolerance. By teaching us how to investigate Islam by learning its history and spiritual legacy, she flipped the culturally deterministic script that dominates popular discussion of the religion in a highly necessary way."
Sidney Lemelle, the Edwin F. and Martha Hahn Professor of History and Africana Studies, has taught History of Africa to 1800; History of Africa from 1800; Pan-Africanism and Black Radical Traditions; and Slavery and Freedom in the New World. This is his fourth Wig Award, previously winning in 1989, 1994 and 2004. He is retiring.
Student comment: "He is extremely passionate about his work, keeps students critically engaged, and devotes an insane amount of effort to cultivating students' intellectual abilities. He covers a vast amount of material, but holds students accountable. He challenges and pushes students to think at new levels. He also assigns extremely interesting, and even inspiring and moving readings."
Jane Liu, assistant professor of chemistry, teaches Biochemistry and Chemical Biology.
Student comment: "In lab, she is a fantastic mentor, providing hands-on support to ensure that students understand the methodology behind their research project. She is extremely approachable and takes great measures to make herself available to students outside of class."
Lynne Miyake, professor of Japanese, teaches elementary, intermediate and advanced Japanese; Graphically Speaking: Japanese Manga and its Buds; Japanese/Japanese American Women Writers; and Japanese and Japanese American Autobiography.
Student comment: "Encyclopedic knowledge of her favorite subjects (e.g. manga and anime), willingness to approach it from a variety of angles and take student feedback into account on that front. Miyake sensei constantly brings an incredible energy to all of the classes she teaches. I appreciate how she constantly pushes you to do better and continue learning despite the Japanese language's difficulty curve."
Gilda Ochoa, professor of sociology and Chicano/a-Latino/a studies, teaches Chicanos/as-Latinos/as in Contemporary Society; Chicanos/Latinos and Education; Los Angeles Communities: Transformation, Inequality and Activism; Sociology of Race and Ethnicity, among others. This is her third Wig Award; she received it in 2004 and 2009.
Student comment: "Prof. Ochoa is one of my personal heroes. Her passion, clarity, and generosity are contagious in the classroom; I have never experienced elsewhere such a radically supportive space for deep learning. She always encourages her students to take their understanding one step further into practice, and she is an incredible example of how to live by one's beliefs."
Sara Olson, assistant professor of biology, teaches Advanced Cell Biology and Molecular Biology.
Student comment: "She works tirelessly to make her curriculum the best it can be, putting deep thought into every assignment, and she has a gift for getting students excited about the material. She treats every student like her most important student, giving both thoughtful feedback and genuine personal support."